Sufjan Stevens… sounds familiar!
Of course it rings a bell. We’re talking about one of the greatest musical geniuses of the last 25 years. Born in Detroit in 1975, Sufjan Stevens has released a total of 15 albums (plus more singles and EPs) in which he travels through the American folk tradition and, sometimes, mixes it with the electronic avant-garde. His most acclaimed album is Illinois (Asthmatic Kitty, 2005), a compendium of 22 songs of folk and exquisite baroque pop inspired by the American state. This album belongs to a project (which Stevens himself has abandoned) consisting of publishing an album inspired by each of the states of his native country. Precisely this ambition is one of the faces of Detroit: complex, baroque, sometimes overloaded, always fascinating. However, Stevens is also capable of achieving excellence from opposite parameters: there is the shocking and minimalist Carrie & Lowell (Asthmatic Kitty, 2015). This tremendous versatility makes Sufjan Stevens one of the greatest musicians of our time.
For those readers who don’t know Sufjan Stevens’ music here is a perfect example of his sound, orchestrated baroque pop with a twist of Americana:
The Age of Adz? What kind of title is that for a record?
Although Sufjan Stevens already had a certain fame in the front row of the indie scene, the hit album Illinois gave him a definite boost into the mainstream eye (and ear). When everyone was waiting for a record of the same style, Sufjan began to look elsewhere. Seeing as he’s from Detroit, a city with a restless reputation, a change was to be expected. He put the ukuleles and folk aside and immersed himself in electronic gear. The result was The Age of Adz (Asthmatic Kitty, 2010), an electro-pop concept album that tells the story of artist Royal Robertson (1936-1997), archetype of misunderstood artists and schizophrenics, inventor of a creative universe full of monsters, prophecies and biblical passages. Perhaps Sufjan thought that this concept, the one of being misunderstood, could become his reality after such a drastic musical turn. Nothing could be further from what actually happened: The Age of Adz was received with enthusiasm by critics and the public alike!
Here is a promo video for a show that happened around the release date of the album:
How do you go from folkie to electronic magician?
Being a genius, fundamentally. Besides that, Sufjan Stevens had to almost completely change his musical tools. His main ally in moving forward was the Dave Smith Instruments Prophet REV2-8 synthesizer, which he used on most of the songs that make up The Age of Adz. This versatile synthesizer is the foundation on which the musical identity of the new Sufjan Stevens is based: the same preciousness, the same complex compositions, but taking inspiration from different palettes.
Tell me more, please, this sounds interesting!
In short, the Dave Smith Instruments Prophet REV2-8 is an eight-voice polyphonic analog synthesizer (expandable to 16 voices). It is a reinterpretation and improvement of the classic DSI Prophet ’08. Smith himself stated that this model is the result of “improving the original design of the synthesizer and offering it at a more affordable price” (it is currently at €1,319 in our shop). The REV2-8 retains the soul of the Prophet, but extends it: we find the double modulation matrix, waveforms in every shape imaginable, the possibility of applying voice modes stacked or divided in digital effects per layer or a polyphonic step sequencer per layer.
Here is Sufjan demonstrating the Prophet REV2-8’s power, on stage, between guitar playing:
An attractive feature is the possibility of downloading all the Prophet’08 sound gallery, both original and improved with the innovations of the REV2-8. The secret of its deep sound is in its Curtis 2/4-pole, low-pass and voice resonance filters. This is the material used in many of the instruments of the 70s and 80s, allowing the REV2-8 to sound classic while at the same time avant-garde. Another of the improvements included in the synth is wave shape modulation. This translates into the possibility of varying the pulse width of the four waveforms (i.e. sawtooth, saw + triangle, triangle and square). The Shape Mod control allows you to manually set the wavelength or use an LFO (low frequency oscillation) or any other modulation source to continuously change the timbre of the sound.
In short, we are talking about a very versatile and powerful synthesizer with a 5- octave, premium quality, semi-weighted keyboard with speed and aftertouch channels. Its integrated power supply, USB support and high quality OLED display make the REV2-8 an ideal instrument for touring. Check out this in-depth demo for more details:
And who else uses this beast?
The list of musicians who have opted for the DSI Prophet REV2-8 is dizzying, both in number and in quality. This, in addition to the versatility of the instrument, speaks to how several of the most acclaimed musicians of our time have turned to this synthesizer to bring an elegant electronic aura to their sound. We’re talking about people like Deadmau5, Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Nigel Godrich, Win Butler or James Blake.
And me, how do I do it at home?
It must be said that Dave Smith and his people have made an effort to make the DSI Prophet REV2-8 as affordable as possible. It is a great synthesizer at a relatively inexpensive price for the technology it includes. But let’s be honest: we don’t all have €1,319 in our pockets. Yes, we are living in times of scarcity, but cheer up, there is good news: there are cheaper alternatives. Although they may not sound exactly the same as the REV2-8, they are options with which you will get similar sounds. Here they are, in descending order by price:
Korg Prologue 8 (€1,299)
DSI Prophet REV 2-8 Desktop (€1,239)
DSI Mopho X4 (€899)
Behringer DeepMind 12 (€699)
Roland Juno-DS 61 (€698)
or one of the cheapest offers on the market, the
Korg Minilogue (only €499)
Listening carefully to the albums of Sufjan Stevens (his albums are always more than mere collections of songs) is a great journey in every sense. In the case of The Age Of Adz, perhaps the greatest lesson learned from this Detroit production with its sonorous twists is that an artist must often leave their creative comfort zone. It would have been easy for him to write albums similar to Illinois, but he decided to dive into a new world. As he fell, supported by his undeniable genius and extensive knowledge of the technique and spirit of electronic music, he developed giant wings.
What are your thoughts about the Prophet REV2-8? Have you tried it? What do you think of Sufjan Stevens’ albums? We’d love to hear your comments ✍️